During the draft, I was happy to record the picks of Yuuya Watanabe in seat five, but I have to admit, my eyes started wandering as the draft went on over to seat six where seventh-ranked William Jensen was sitting.
You see, Watanabe was drafting a pretty straightforward aggressive deck that invited a few twists and turns, but ultimately, looked to attack and attack and attack. It looked good, great even, but not sweet.
Jensen, on the other hand, caught my attention when the flash of a Temporal Fissure grabbed my eye. I glanced over and was immediately blown away. Psychatog, counterspells, rituals, and multiple storm cards were all sitting in Jensen's pile. Mana Drain, a million ways to draw cards—it was as exciting a deck as you're going to see in this format.
We'll get to more on that in a moment, but first let's meet our competitors. Jensen—you can read his profile for more—finds himself at the top of the world standings once again, just a few years after coming back to the game. By any account, Jensen had a historic season, not only earning his trip to this field of 24, but also setting a record with eight Grand Prix Top 8s in a single season—breaking the record formerly held by friend, teammate, and first-ranked Owen Turtenwald.
Lee Shi Tian had an excellent season himself, and he started off the new season strong by recently and memorably making the Top 8 of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. He qualified as one of the two representatives of the Asia-Pacific region and is currently ranked tenth in the world. You can read more about him in his profile as well.
Seventh-ranked William Jensen's sweet storm deck packed some power, but tenth-ranked Lee Shi Tian's deck had a lot a lot of brute force, with the ability to beat down before he gets stormed out.
Oh, the decks. I've already gushed over Jensen's deck a bit (oh, it also has Gush in it), but it really is a quintessential blue-black Storm deck with a secondary win condition of two Psychatogs. If your secondary win condition is Psychatog—two even—you've got it pretty good.
"I just think it's the best deck," Jensen said, flashing the Brain Freeze that started him down the path. "It's got some holes, though. I don't have any Frantic Search. Turnabout is the only way to generate mana."
"But," he added. "Sometimes Psychatog just attacks for 20."
Meanwhile, Lee has the archetype staple white-green auras deck, an aggressive deck with Elephant Guides (plural!) and Armadillo Cloak. The deck hits hard and fast and could be exactly the kind of deck that can give Jensen's combo deck fits if it stutters even for a moment. And Battle Screech, which Lee was fortunate enough to grab one of, is widely considered the top common in the set.
It's aggro versus combo, a tale as old as time.
Jensen was on the play, and made the most of it with a second-turn Nightscape Familiar, offering both a roadblock and a way to jump start his plan of casting a bunch of spells in one turn. His Counterspell effectively stopped an Armadillo Cloak, and on his fourth turn he cast AND flashed back a Deep Analysis.
The Deep Analysis cost to flash back—three life—actually helped further Lee's plan of beating down, but given Jensen's full grip and ability to simply go off at a moment's notice, he couldn't feel good about his chances.
Still, he pressed on. Dreampod Druid started making Saproling tokens—thanks to Elephant Guide—while Soltari Trooper with an Armor of Thorns gave him a way to sneak under and around Psychatog. Jensen cycled Choking Tethers to keep the Trooper off his back for a turn, but with a growing army of Saprolings, Jensen would need a big turn soon.
And what a turn it was.
Gush (floating two mana), into Dark Ritual, into Plea for Power, into a pause to think about it. He turned his 11 cards in hand into a Temporal Fissure for five, effectively wiping out Lee's army and making his Psychatog lethal at a moment's notice. It was the big turn Jensen's deck needed to win, and the textbook turn looked like it might have solidly put Jensen in the driver's seat.
Jensen runs the numbers, aiming to end the game on the back of a single Psychatog attack just like it was the early 2000s.
Lee reloaded as best as he could, dropping a Benalish Trapper and a Soltari Trooper. It actually matched up pretty well against Jensen's Psychatog—but not terribly well against the second Psychatog Jensen dropped the following turn.
Oh, and the Hall of Famer still had a full grip of cards and a stocked graveyard, ready to send Psychatog to atmospheric heights at a moment's notice. And when Turnabout tapped down Lee's team to prevent any chump blocking, Jensen grew Psychatog to 19 power, sending both players to their sideboards for help.
Jensen 1 – Lee 0
This time it was Lee's turn to start fast, as Deftblade Elite and Soltari Emissary with an Armadillo Cloak put Jensen on a quick clock immediately. Battle Screech ratcheted the pressure up to eleven, and Lee was threatening lethal pretty fast.
"Hm," Jensen mused out loud as he looked at a board of three lands and a Psychatog. And it soon became apparent why he was staring so intently at his hand.
Gush, Dark Ritual, Nightscape Familiar, Dark Ritual, Plea for Power, Nightscape Familiar, Brain Freeze (for 21) and...that was it. Jensen cast a second Brain Freeze the following turn to get a look at Lee's sideboard plan, but fell just one copy of Brain Freeze short of taking the game in time.
Instead, Lee attacked for lethal and sent the match to a deciding third game. Jensen's deck had simply failed him, and Lee ran roughshod over the remains.
Jensen 1 – Lee 1
Jensen was dead. He was dead. He had to be. He had done little to nothing. Lee had done nothing too little. Jensen was at 6 facing twice that much power and a creature that could tap down his best blocker. He was dead. He had to be.
But we'll come back to that.
Lee's white-green deck is as subtle as a stampede, but you don't need subtlety or finesse when you have some of the format's most powerful aggressive cards.
As befit the match, the final game started with a Soltari Trooper facing down Dr. Teeth himself, Psychatog. Battle Screech made another appearance, but a Circular Logic was enough to stop the front end of the powerful token producer.
Still, it seemed like Jensen wasn't firing on all cylinders, with just three cards in hand and no card draw spells making an appearance. The Storm deck was prone to stumbling from time to time, as it mostly had in the second game, and it appeared it might be letting Jensen down when he needed it most.
And with Jensen doing virtually nothing, Lee continued to pour creatures onto the table while keeping Psychatog locked down with a Benalish Trapper. Jensen fell to just six life as things started looking grim.
And he was dead. He had to be. Right?
Jensen clearly felt it himself, but was obliged to do the math anyway. He counted Lee's cards in play and hand and did the math to figure out how many cards were in Lee's deck.
"So, 26 in your deck," Jensen said counting one more in the deck. "27. Did you board up to 41?"
Lee flashed a smile and giggled as his ruse was discovered.
"That's fine," Jensen said. "27 is just as hard."
He was dead. He had to be.
Jensen started doing the math and drew some cards with Plea for Power. His plea, apparently, was heard, as he sat up straighter as his eyes widened.
"That's good. Yeah, that's good. I think that's it," Jensen said, throwing a bunch of mana in his pool.
Was he dead?
The turn before lethal would have been delivered, the turn where it appeared he was very dead, Jensen had drawn into the second Brain Freeze.
"Your deck's really good," Jensen said, exhaling. "I think against any normal deck, you win."
Against any normal deck and winning the die roll, both players agreed Lee was advantaged.
"I think on the play I win Game 1," Lee said. Jensen fully agreed.
"I saw your deck list and was like, please let me win the die roll."
Jensen certainly rolled the die and, just as certainly, won his gamble.
Jensen 2 – Lee 1